Monday, October 17, 2011

The Jerry Coyne Lidless Eye Award

We are pleased to announce the Jerry Coyne Lidless Eye award, which will be given, as appropriate, to celebrate and recognize exceptional stupidity in writing about the intersection of religion and science.

The inaugural award goes to, of course, Jerry Coyne. We do feel the necessity for making a solemn promise: while he certainly provides more than enough material, we pledge that the award will not always go to Jerry Coyne.

But today it does.

Today he attacks the Washington Post writer Charles Krauthammer. The title of Jerry’s post is “Charles Krauthammer gets science wrong.

Krauthammer writes about the buzz over the faster-than-light neutrinos. 

Here is what Jerry quotes from Krauthammer’s article:

Krauthammer : “The world as we know it is on the brink of disintegration, on the verge of dissolution. No, I’m not talking about the collapse of the euro [describes more political turmoil]
I am talking about something far more important. Which is why it made only the back pages of your newspaper, if it made it at all. Scientists at CERN, the European high-energy physics consortium, have announced the discovery of a particle that can travel faster than light.”
And here is Jerry’s criticism:
Jerry: "This is of course an exciting finding, one that could possibly revise all of 20th century physics.  The likelihood is, though, that’s it’s wrong, and even the scientists who found this have strong doubts about its veracity and have called for replication.  In a move that would do credit to a creationist, though, Krauthammer uses this doubt as an attack on scientists themselves—that our doubt comes not from the confidence that has accrued, though experiment and observation, to Einstein’s theory, but from scientists’ dogged refusal to even consider that relativity might be wrong, leading to their conclusion that the experiment itself must be wrong". (Boldface added)
What a sleaze you are, Jerry. A sleaze that would do credit to Duane Gish. Where has Krauthammer "attacked" scientists? He has not. Not in what you quoted, and not in the complete article. We continue:

Krauthammer : "The implications of such a discovery are so mind-boggling, however, that these same scientists immediately requested that other labs around the world try to replicate the experiment. Something must have been wrong — some faulty measurement, some overlooked contaminant — to account for a result that, if we know anything about the universe, is impossible.
And that’s the problem. It has to be impossible because, if not, if that did happen on this Orient Express hurtling between Switzerland and Italy, then everything we know about the universe is wrong. 
. . . This will not just overthrow physics. Astronomy and cosmology measure time and distance in the universe on the assumption of light speed as the cosmic limit. Their foundations will shake as well.
It cannot be. Yet, this is not a couple of guys in a garage peddling cold fusion. This is no crank wheeling a perpetual motion machine into the patent office. These are the best researchers in the world using the finest measuring instruments, having subjected their data to the highest levels of scrutiny, including six months of cross-checking by 160 scientists from 11 countries.
But there must be some error. Because otherwise everything changes. We shall need a new physics. A new cosmology. New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect. Then shortly and surely, new theologies.
Why? Because we can’t have neutrinos getting kicked out of taverns they have not yet entered."

All perfectly acceptable for a popular piece. Indeed the ramifications if the result stands are staggering. Robespierre Jerry, however, sees sinister, apostate forces at work:
Jerry: "This all sounds good to the non-scientist, and yes, we scientists suspect that something was wrong with the CERN experiment, but Krauthammer is right for the wrong reasons."
Yo Jerr, the piece is intended for non-scientists. It should sound good to them. Note that as even Jerry admits,  Krauthammer is correct, just not correct with sufficient piety. In Jerry's Sermon on the Mount, Jerry says: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not write inaccurately.' But I, Jerry, say to you that everyone who writes with non-Coyne-esque motivations has already committed plagiarism in his heart. " 

The pulling stuff out-his-butt continues:
Jerry: "We are doubtful not because we desperately need to cling to a paradigm that has seemed successful, but simply because overthrowing such a paradigm requires very strong evidence.  Scientists love findings that overturn what we thought we knew, for that opens up whole new areas of research and understanding. It’s what keeps us interested in the world. But before we put what we thought we knew into the dustbin, we must be very careful."
And where did Krauthhammer suggest that scientists are desperately clinging to paradigms? He didn’t say it—and if he had, he’d be partly right. Can you say “steady state universe”? Can you say “String Theory”? Yes, we require strong evidence to overturn a prevailing theory (Krauthhammer does not say otherwise--again Jerry, what a sleaze you are) but it is also not unheard of for some to hold on to cherished theories far beyond their expiration date. Fortunately the discipline is always more than the sum of its parts, and progress and peer-pressure will (usually) wear down even the most vested and stubborn. All of which is not relevant, were it not for Jerry’s paranoia/dishonesty, because Krauthhammer did not write what Jerry claimed.

Jerry: Krauthammer’s editorial, which sounds so reasonable, actually profoundly mischaracterizes the nature of science.
It sounds reasonable because it is. (Well actually it is kind of boring—but it is not unreasonable.) And it absolutely does not mischaracterize the nature of science. Let alone "profoundly" so. 

But all this was just bluster. The true stripes are about to be revealed:
Jerry: And I think he’s saying these things because he’s trying to diss scientists as adherents to a form of faith.  Ten to one he’s either religious or an accommodationist. (I’m just guessing here; I have no idea.)
There we have the lidless eye! Nothing can escape Jerry’s fixed stare of orthodoxy. This is what Jerry wanted to say. This is his main point. The rest was just a very weak setup so that this last paragraph would appear to have legs to stand on. Fail. Ten to one Jerry is mendacious.  (I’m not just guessing here, the evidence is clear.)

The Lidless Eye is an appropriate name for the Jerry Coyne award. Like a John Bircher, Coyne sees his accommodationist  bogeymen hiding under every bed.

UPDATE: It is always amusing to look at the commenters on Jerry's posts, many of whom try to outdo one another in their efforts to seek his approval. A few of the numerous chowderheaded comments:

"Krauthammer is a devoted follower of a faith-based ideology, conservatism, and is therefore incapable of comprehending science, which is neither faith-based nor an ideology."
"This is too familiar
Something happened that science didn’t predict. Therefore science is wrong and evolution is refuted. Therefore ID and creationism are true."
"Krauthammer absolutely knows he’s lying about science." 
Krauthammer is, I gather, a conservative. But the problem for these Coyne-Lemmings is that he also is a non-religious Jew who has written forcefully against creationism and Intelligent Design. These pinheads simply followed Jerry's lead: Jerry sez this be a bad man, so surely he is a Templeton Prize winner and an ID super-advocate and a god-bot.

But fittingly the dumbest comment is from Jerry himself. A rare dissenting commenter slipped through Jerry's nixplanatory filter and asked
So where is the science that Krauthammer got wrong?
To which the Jerr replied:
I didn’t say he got the science wrong;
Um, Jerry, you might want to check the title of your post.

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